After nine years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit, Ryan Ferguson is finally freed to enter a changed world. Ferguson was just a teen when he was accused of killing Kent Heitholt; a Columbia Tribune sports editor. Ferguson was convicted of Heitholt’s murder in 2005 and handed a 40-year-sentence.
Ferguson’s conviction was overturned causing him to walk free on Tuesday. The Missouri attorney general decided against retrying Ferguson for the 2001 murder of Heitholt. His conviction was overturned because Ferguson hadn’t received a fair trial as the prosecutor’s office withheld evidence during his initial trial.
The state’s two primary witnesses have retracted their testimony, and there’s absolutely no DNA evidence that links Ferguson to the scene of the crime.
Ferguson and his friend Charles Erickson were both charged with robbing and killing Heitholt on Halloween night 2001 as the sports editor left work.
Erickson, a high school classmate, made claim that he recalled through dreams the night that he and Ferguson killed the newspaper editor. He said it happened during a robbery after they had spent the evening partying for Halloween.
He claimed that he and Ferguson committed the act together because they were in need of drinking money. Ferguson was charged and convicted of robbery and second-degree murder. He was only 19-years-old at the time of the 40-year sentencing.
Erickson has since changed his story but still remains behind bars.
Ferguson’s father, Bill, had not stopped fighting to free his son since his 2004 arrest and can now rejoice because his efforts have paid off. He said his son was wrongfully convicted because there was never any physical evidence to base a conviction on.
Ferguson says his son was wrongly convicted because the entire case against him was not based on physical evidence. He said the prosecution ignored the fact of no DNA evidence. None of the fingerprints, blood or hair found at the crime scene matched his son’s.
His prosecution was based on the only evidence they had; the testimony of a janitor named Jerry Trump, who claimed he saw Ferguson at the crime scene and Erickson, who had a dream. Both men recanted their testimonies saying they lied.
Ferguson is finally free after spending nearly 10 years behind bars for a crime he was wrongfully convicted of. He is free to join a world that has changed drastically since he last engaged in it. He’s never sent a text, not one tweet, never posted a status on FaceBook and hasn’t submitted one picture to Instagram. The world has changed since Ferguson last knew it.
Ferguson was picked up, from what had been his residence for too long; the Boone County jail, by his father who had the words, “Wrongfully Convicted – FREE RYAN – Time for Justice” along with his Ferguson’s picture inscribed on his black sedan.
They headed straight to a news conference being held at a hotel ballroom. There were dozens of supporters awaiting his arrival.
Ferguson said he felt like Jay Leno as he walked into the packed facility wearing a gray sweater, white shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He entered with a big smile on his face and his arms stretched out in victory.
He was excited for the opportunity to publicly thank his many supporters, attorneys; a few of his high school friends and of course his family.
Ferguson said to get arrested and charged for a crime you did not commit is so very easy and your life seems to get lost very fast. But it takes an army to get out of prison.
He has no college experience, has to get reacquainted with a variety of people and things as well as acclimated to the new way of the world but is ecstatic to be free. Ferguson said he while he was locked up he didn’t allow himself to look too far into future but has been studying, reading and preparing for his life.
Ryan Ferguson has left prison and is free to enter a changed world after his murder conviction was overturned in the death of Kent Heitholt; a newspaper sports editor.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)